Howdy, folks! Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in January, 2013. This page gets updated throughout the month, so check back if you can... Also, check out my full Guide To Hick Music for a bazillion more record reviews and artist profiles.
New Stuff: January, 2013
The Bailes Brothers "Remember Me" (Bear Family)
The Bailes Brothers "Standing Somewhere In The Shadows" (Bear Family)
Marty Cooper "I Wrote A Song: The Complete 1970's Recordings" (Ace/Big Beat)
Hank Davis "One Way Track" (Bear Family, 2012)
James Hand "Mighty Lonesome Man" (Hillgrass Bluebilly)
Caroline Herring "Camilla" (Signature Sounds)
Jerry Kilgore "Telephone, TX" (Nic-Nic Neer)
Eddie Noack "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" (Bear Family)
Tim O'Brien & Darrell Scott "We're Usually A Lot Better Than This" (Full Light)
Carrie Rodriguez "Give Me All You Got" (Ninth Street Opus)
The Roys "New Day Dawning" (Rural Rhythm)
Paul Sikes "Craft" (7 Layer)
Ricky Skaggs "Music To My Ears" (Skaggs Family)
Wendy Burch Steel "Open Wings" (Dragonfly Bridge)
Various Artists "CLUCK OLD HEN: A BARNYARD SERENADE" (Old Hat Records)
Various Artists "HILLBILLY BOP, BOOGIE AND THE HONKYTONK BLUES: V.5" (Jasmine)
The Bailes Brothers "Remember Me: The Legendary King Sessions 1946" (Bear Family, 2012)
The Bailes Brothers -- Walter and Johnnie Bailes -- followed in the path of many other "brother duos" such as the Monroe Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys, singing nostalglia-oriented ballads and gospel songs, with the delicate vocal harmonies that only family bands can have. The Bailes Brothers came to the game a little late, hitting their peak in the late 1940s, just as the brother act sound was giving way to more modern, uptempo sounds such as bluegrass and hillbilly boogie. Nonetheless, they made their mark with a series of soulful though now-obscure recordings. This disc compiles material recorded in 1946 for the fabled King label; a second disc, Standing Somewhere In The Shadows collects tracks from the early '50s, all of it accompanied by copious archival material and Bear Family's trademark high-quality sound. Great stuff; highly recommended!
The Bailes Brothers "Standing Somewhere In The Shadows: The Legendary King Sessions 1953, Plus" (Bear Family, 2012)
Marty Cooper "I Wrote A Song: The Complete 1970's Recordings" (Ace/Big Beat, 2012)
Hank Davis "One Way Track" (Bear Family, 2012)
James Hand "Mighty Lonesome Man" (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 2012)
Caroline Herring "Camilla" (Signature Sounds, 2012)
Jerry Kilgore "Telephone, TX" (Nic-Nic Neer, 2012)
A great set of pure, uncompromised, real-deal, old-school country -- heartfelt honkytonk with just a hint of twangy Top 40 that brings to mind Moe Bandy's early years. Kilgore's been one of hard-country's great secret weapons for several years, though this is only his third album in a twenty-year career, and his second recorded as an indie artist. He excels at all styles, from heartsongs to barroom honky-tonkers; highlights here include the sly novelty song, "If Ya Wanna Keep Your Beer Cold (Put It Next To Her Heart)." This is an artist I'm always glad to hear something new from... If you looking for music to drink beer to, this guy's plenty of twang on tap!
Eddie Noack "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" (Bear Family, 2012)
An unexpectedly lavish 3-CD set covering the career of hillbilly songwriter Eddie Noack, who kept it country during the rock'n'pop 1950s and still sounds pretty swell today. Classic country devotees will probably recognize Noack's name mostly on a subliminal level: he pops up on compilation albums and song credits throughout the 'Fifties, but his work as a solo performer has mostly been a bit off the beaten track. This collection includes all his '50s singles, along with a hefty dose of demos and studio chatter, all with plenty of true blue twang. Fans of old-school hard country will get a real kick out of this one!
Tim O'Brien & Darrell Scott "We're Usually A Lot Better Than This" (Full Light, 2012)
Live recordings from 2005 and 2006...
Carrie Rodriguez "Give Me All You Got" (Ninth Street Opus, 2013)
(Produced by Lee Townsend)
The Roys "New Day Dawning" (Rural Rhythm, 2012)
(Produced by Andy Leftwich & The Roys)
Sweet, melodic contemporary bluegrass with a brace of new songs written by Lee and Elaine Roys, a husband-wife duo who are in Ricky Skaggs' orbit, and have a lot in common with him musically. The songs here all feature contemplative lyrics that mix religion and cultural nostalgia -- memories of mom and dad, grandma and grandpa's farm, stuff like that. If you're a fan of Alison Krauss, or of Ricky Skaggs' style of spiritual bluegrass, you'll probably really like this as well. Solid accompaniment by fiddler Andy Leftwich, dobro player Randy Kohrs, and other talented modern musicians.
Paul Sikes "Craft" (7 Layer, 2012)
(Produced by Paul Sikes)
Nashville scenester Paul Sikes has had a good run as a Top 40 songwriter, placing songs with stars such as Josh Gracin and Emerson Drive. This self-released solo set has the feel of a songwriter's demo: it doesn't quite catch fire, but you could see some of these songs becoming hits for someone else, sometime down the line. A little too slick and syrupy for my tastes, but for fans of more modern, sophisticated Nashville material, this might make a nice change of pace from the hits-only sound of Top 40 radio.
Ricky Skaggs "Music To My Ears" (Skaggs Family, 2012)
This opens with some rock-solid traditional truegrass set with rich picking and strong song selection... Then it drifts into more contemporary folk-twang type material, with a mix of secular and spiritual songs... Pretty much par for the course for Mr. Skaggs. For my money, the best tracks are the propulsive opening number, "Blue Night" and the sweet gospel harmonies of the title track, "Music To My Ears." He's keeping the flame burning, for sure. The album also includes a version of "Tennessee Stud," made in tribute to the late Doc Watson, who passed away last year.
Wendy Burch Steel "Open Wings" (Dragonfly Bridge, 2012)
(Produced by Laurie Lewis)
Bluegrass-tinged, country-flavored folk music from Berkeley, CA. This album features several original songs by Ms. Steel (great name for an Americana singer!) as well as traditional material and bluegrass oldies from the catalogs of the Dillards and Bill Monroe. The backing band features Laurie Lewis and some of her pals (such as Todd Phillips, Tom Rozum and John Schott... a talented crew, for sure!) Lewis also sings harmony, as does Nell Robinson, another addition to the Bay Area bluegrass scene. This is a little more "folkie" than I go for, but a nice, local, DIY album nonetheless. If you're a Laurie Lewis/Kathy Kallick fan, you'll appreciate this as well.
Various Artists "CLUCK OLD HEN: A BARNYARD SERENADE" (Old Hat Records, 2012)
A great, goofy, poultry-themed collection of Depression-era blues and old-timey tunes, with plenty of classic novelty numbers and a bunch of super-squeaky fiddles. This collection tilts a little more towards the hillbilly side of things, although there are tracks by bluesmen such as Peg Leg Howell and Casey Bill along with various jug bands, a touch of jazz and of course a slew of rural artists who didn't fall easily into any one category. There are a few stars -- Gene Autry, Cliff Carlisle, Riley Puckett -- but they are far outweighed by more obscure performers such as the Beale Street Sheiks, George Edgin's Corn Dodgers, Sweet Papa Stovepipe, the duo known as Mustard & Gravy, and most delightfully, the group vocals of the Utica Institute Jubilee Singers. This disc makes a great companion to Old Hat's sizzling BARBEQUE ANY OLD TIME collection, though this has a much higher proportion of animal-imitation tunes... Great stuff, of course!
Various Artists "HILLBILLY BOP, BOOGIE AND THE HONKYTONK BLUES: V.5" (Jasmine, 2012)
Hick Music Index